Michael Craft is the author of sixteen novels, including the acclaimed Mark Manning mystery series, from which three installments were honored as finalists for Lambda Literary Awards: Name Games (2000), Boy Toy (2001), and Hot Spot (2002). In addition, he is the author of two produced plays, and his prize-winning short fiction has appeared in British as well as American literary journals.
Craft grew up in Illinois and spent his middle years in Wisconsin, which inspired the fictitious setting of his current books. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and now lives in Rancho Mirage, California.
In 2017, Michael Craft’s professional papers were acquired by the Special Collections Department of the Rivera Library at the University of California, Riverside. A comprehensive archive of his manuscripts, working notes, correspondence, and other relevant documents, along with every edition of his completed works, is now cataloged and made available for both scholarly research and public enjoyment.
A marriage of convenience … a crisis of faith … a talking cat.
What could possibly go wrong?
In idyllic little Dumont, Wisconsin, the historic but financially troubled St. Alban’s Episcopal Church has a new rector who plans to turn things around, a woman named Joyce Hibbard. Local architect Marson Miles puts two and two together and figures out that Mother Hibbard’s husband is none other than his long-ago college friend, Curtis Hibbard, who is now a prominent New York attorney. And unless Marson is mistaken, Curtis and Joyce must have a marriage of convenience.
Mother Hibbard wants to build a fabulous new church to replace the crumbling St. Alban’s. Local philanthropist Mary Questman wants her friend Marson to design it. And Mother Hibbard’s husband really wants the hunky young choir director, David Lovell. But then, in a god-awful development, someone turns up dead.
It was murder, all right, and suspects abound. Once again, Marson’s dashing husband, Brody Norris, steps into the role of amateur sleuth and sidekick to Sheriff Thomas Simms. And once again, Brody himself gets a bit of help–from Mary Questman’s exotic cat, a chatty Abyssinian named Mister Puss.
ChoirMaster is the second book in the Mister Puss series.
Brad Shreve: (00:00)
Today in our premier episode, Justin tries to explain a cricket stump up someone’s ass from Garrick Jones’ new novel and Michael Craft joins us to talk about ChoirMaster, and a talking cat, or does he talk?
Welcome to Gay Mystery Authors with Brad Shreve featuring interviews with some of the most renowned authors on up and coming talent in LGBTQ mysteries, suspense and thrillers. Plus Justin Adamec is here with her weekly recommendation.
Brad Shreve: (00:43)
Okay, Justine, I know I’m supposed to keep my cool. Everything’s supposed to just kind of smooth and easy, but I’m really excited. This is our first one.
Justene Adamec: (00:51)
Yeah, kind of the first time on the real live tracks. Let’s give it a go and see how we do
Brad Shreve: (00:58)
well then, let’s just get started. I want to hear what you’re going to talk about today.
Justene Adamec: (01:03)
Well, I’m going to talk about The. Cricketer’s Arms by Garrick Jones. I’m going to give you an overview of review of that book and before I get to that, I’m going to let you know about ReQueered Tales, which I am one of the partners in. We’re bringing back gay fiction one book at a time. So what we do is we get old books that are out of print from anywhere between Stonewall and the turn of the century. And we reproduce them on eBooks books and occasionally in print. On September 27th, we release Banged Up by Jack Dickson. And I don’t know if you’ve read the first book Free Form. Uh, it’s a, it’s a pretty powerful, uh, categorize it very gritty really in your face with the sex and the violence. But it’s not gratuitous at all. And the Scottish, the dialect, the dialogue is written in Scottish dialect phonetically.
Brad Shreve: (02:00)
I haven’t read it yet. I been trying to get caught up on, on current writers, which is quite the challenge because there’s so many. But uh, but I’ve got a long list of these are the ones that got to get around to. It’s yeah, on my list.
Justene Adamec: (02:18)
I think you’ll like it quite a bit. It’s, it’s very different from anything I have seen on the market.
Brad Shreve: (02:24)
I love gritty.
Justene Adamec: (02:25)
It is certainly gritty. So how about we get to Garrick Jones and The Cricketer’s Arms?
Brad Shreve: (02:32)
I’m excited about this. I haven’t read Cricketer’s Arms. I read his book, the Boys of Ballaroo. Um, it’s not a mystery novel. It was beautifully written. I’m going to even admit it made me cry a couple of times, which was kind of what it was supposed to do. Right. It was so excellent. I’m really excited to hear how he did with a mystery.
Justene Adamec: (02:55)
I think this is his first mystery. Is that correct?
Brad Shreve: (02:58)
As I understand, I think so.
Justene Adamec: (03:00)
it is good. I gotta say especially for his first time out, it has got the same beautiful writing of his other books, but he’s really mastered the whole mystery pacing. Uh, it’s got a good central mystery and it’s got various clues peppered throughout. So I enjoyed it quite a bit. Now it’s a long book and paperback. It’s 404 pages. So if you’re like me and once you open a book, you can’t stop until it’s finished. Well, you might not want to start too late evening.
Brad Shreve: (03:33)
Oh, you’re one of those,.
Justene Adamec: (03:34)
Yeah, I’m one of those. I bet a lot of people who are listening to this or one of those two.
Brad Shreve: (03:40)
Yeah, I’m always impressed with that because I’m a slow reader and I talk to folks like you who say, I listened to all these podcasts, I watch all these TV shows, I read all these books. And I’m like, how the hell do you do that?
Justene Adamec: (03:56)
Well, you know, sometimes the laundry has to just build up. Well, it’s good to hear the kep you engrossed enough to read it all the way through. Um, what more can you tell us about it? Well, let’s see. You know, the, the murder mystery is, is rather gruesome. They find a, uh, top cricketer pegged to, uh, on the cricket pitch pegged to four posts with a cricket stump, which I believe is a bat or it may be the stump that the pitcher and the pitcher’s mound, but a cricket stumped wedged up is arse. You know, there are a lot of it set in Australia in 1956 and there are a lot of Australian phrases that I had to look up, for example, sly grogger. Have you ever heard of a sly grogger?
Brad Shreve: (04:51)
Uh, no I haven’t.
Justene Adamec: (04:54)
Apparently. If someone who sells illegal booze after hours,
Brad Shreve: (04:59)
This could be kind of fun to learn a lot of this new stuff.
Justene Adamec: (05:02)
Yeah, it is kind of fun. It’s kind of fun. But as I’m sitting here talking to you, I realize maybe a cricket stump isn’t the bat, maybe it’s the posts. So
Brad Shreve: (05:12)
either way, either way, it doesn’t sound like something you want stuck up your ass.
Justene Adamec: (05:17)
That’s correct. And then so you’ve gotta, you’ve got that gruesome death and then you find out that Clyde Smith, the main character was a POW in Italy during the war and it’s peppered with his remembrances. And you would think that this is a gritty book, but it’s not. It’s a, you know, the main characters is rather genteel, you know, learned to cook in Italy during that time. And he, every morning he goes up to the fresh markets and gets, you know, what fruit is available in the 1950s and comes back and cooks meals for his on and off again, lover. And he’s overall a good,
Brad Shreve: (05:58)
Does he go much into the past as part of being a POW and that sort of thing?
Justene Adamec: (06:03)
Yeah, he does go into the past. It’s generally okay. Existence where he just kind of got through the days. There are times when he sees people being killed and ends up killing one.
Brad Shreve: (06:18)
Let’s see, this is kind of exciting for me because anybody that knows Garrick Jones, he is a master at a research. He knows the stuff when he’s talking about history. Uh, so I would guess all the events that take place in the fifties are right on target.
Justene Adamec: (06:36)
Yeah, the read the fifties is exactly right. And I was surprised at the amount of detail that went into an Italian POW war camp, which basically, you know, his background and provides a good plank to build this character on, but really doesn’t have anything to do with the plot at hand. And I thought that was an attention to detail and a layering that one not only justified the 400 pages, but showed what a great writer he is and how this is, well, the blurb described it as pulp fiction. It’s not really a pulp fiction. It’s a, it’s more of a literary work which reads like a pulp fiction.
Brad Shreve: (07:17)
Yeah. It doesn’t sound like pop fiction.
Justene Adamec: (07:20)
It’s got a pulp fiction kind of plot. I think that’s a good, a good way to put it. Paul Fisher kind of plot pulp fiction kind of characters. But the writing is a step above.
Brad Shreve: (07:33)
So he goes deep into the main character.
Justene Adamec: (07:36)
It goes very deep into the main character. What’s interesting is that he’s also, you know, every now and then he kind of scatters through the thoughts on relationships and as he gets deeper into the book, he really fleshes that out in a way that it doesn’t take away too from the story. And, and you know, at the beginning he wants the main character. Clyde wants to settle down with his on and off boyfriend, but the on and off boyfriends in the closet and has a uh, fiance for, you know, for show mostly, although he tries to pretend even to her that he’s straight.
Brad Shreve: (08:16)
It was the 1950s,
Justene Adamec: (08:18)
it was the 1950s but you know, Clyde is out, and I think he suffered the consequences on the police force and now he’s an ex police officer. Interesting. It is. It is. And so what happens is, you know, he’s, he’s got this on and off again boyfriend and you can certainly tell, uh, from their interactions that they love each other. But you know, they have relationships on the side. So he runs along having a variety of liaisons. Uh, I think it is at once he actually had three in one day and he said of his age that was getting to be a little difficult.
Brad Shreve: (08:55)
Well I think good for him. You know, my Kindle is bursting at the seams and this is one of them that’s in there. So I’m going to have to move it up the list a little bit it sounds like.
Justene Adamec: (09:06)
Yeah, no, I think you really are gonna have to do that. You better do it before the next Clyde Smith book comes out. I’m, I’m really hoping he brings another book out with this guy and I think he will because the title is a Clyde Smith mystery. And why would you say that if you weren’t in a planning another one?
Brad Shreve: (09:25)
sounds to me like there’s going to be more and if it’s that good, I look forward to it.
Justene Adamec: (09:29)
Yeah, I think it’s great. I think it’s one of my favorite new books at this point.
Brad Shreve: (09:33)
Good. So I’m going to take this as a glowing recommendation on your part. That’s right.?
Justene Adamec: (09:38)
I think we should start ranking recommendations and this one is glowing,
Brad Shreve: (09:43)
Is that, is that, are we going to have a, you’re going to come up with a list of ranks one, two, three kind of overdone.
Justene Adamec: (09:50)
Yeah, I know, but I see. Yeah cause generally if I do a review a book, uh, you know, it’s one of my fives. I, you know, I read a lot of books and while it looks like I have a five, there’s a lot of below fives. So I’m thinking glowing is a ranking and that’s one kind of five flaming will be another ranking. That’s one kind of five and touching will be another kind of five. I’ll, I’ll come up with a list for you.
Brad Shreve: (10:17)
That sounds like a good start.
Justene Adamec: (10:20)
Okay. So you ready to go with the first show?
Brad Shreve: (10:22)
I’m absolutely ready to go for the first show. Good luck. Thank you so much and we’ll see you next week.
Interact with other crime fiction fans and authors in our game. Mystery thriller, suspense fiction group on Facebook. Links are on our website, gay mystery, authors.com
Brad Shreve: (10:51)
Michael Craft. I’ve got to say, it is a pleasure to have you on here today. Welcome.
Michael Craft: (10:56)
Thank you Brad. It’s pleasure to be here, especially on your, your inaugural podcast. This is great.
Brad Shreve: (11:02)
Well I was going to say it’s a red letter day for both of us, right? The first podcast and for you what is going on today?
Michael Craft: (11:11)
It is publication day for ChoirMaster. Mr Puss mystery number two. The second Mr Pus,
Brad Shreve: (11:22)
Michael Craft is an author of 16 novels including the acclaimed Mark Manning, mystery series from which three were honored as finalists for Lambda and literary awards Name Games, which came out in 2000 Boy Toy in 2001 in Hot Spot in 2002. In addition, he is the author of two produce plays and his prize winning short fiction has appeared in British as well as American literary journals. Michael grew up in Illinois and spent his middle years in Wisconsin, which inspired the fictitious setting of his current books, which we’re going to talk a little bit about. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch university Los Angeles and he currently lives up in the beautiful desert in Rancho Mirage, California.
Michael Craft: (12:13)
And it’s a beautiful day. Summer has ended. That’s the main thing, so we’re ready for fall here.
Brad Shreve: (12:22)
You guys wait all summer long. Can we probably cool off a little bit.
Michael Craft: (12:26)
Count the days.
Brad Shreve: (12:28)
I’ll tell you here, here in LA we can see a blue sky, so that’s very nice. I’m going to start out. I normally don’t like asking where do ideas come from? Because it’s really hard question for an author to answer because sometimes we have no idea.
Michael Craft: (12:45)
Well, but you’re going to stick me with that question anyway
Brad Shreve: (12:49)
I have to. This is a gay mystery with an elderly widow with a talking cat
Brad Shreve: (13:01)
Where did this come from?
Michael Craft: (13:03)
Well, it was sort of a twisted path. I can, I can give you a specific moment though. When the germ of the idea was planted, this was four or five years ago, and I was reading a New York times column by Maureen Dowd and she made passing reference to Tober Moray, a talking cat that appeared in a 1911 short story by the author known as Saki, S a, K. I. Well, this kind of peaked my curiosity because I was not familiar either with the author or with the talking cat. So I found the story and read it and was thoroughly intrigued by it. And then this brought to mind a conversation I had had some years prior to that with my agent. And he knew I liked cats and suggested that I might look into cat mysteries. Now at the time, I didn’t even know that existed. I didn’t know cat mysteries for one thing.
Michael Craft: (14:06)
But one thing led to another and the result was Mr. Puss. It started as a short story that I entered in a contest here in Palm Springs with the Palm Springs Writers Guild, uh, for their annual fiction contest in it took first prize and everyone seemed sort of enchanted by the idea. That’s when I, that’s when I introduced the cat as belonging to the wealthy widow Mary Questman. And I just, you know, there, there was enough excitement about that story that I thought, you know what, I think I can work with this. I, I think I can, you know, not only stretch it into a novel, but this sounds like possibly the basis of a series. And I knew just instinctively that it was time to, back to my roots is a gay mystery writer. So I connected, you know, the widow and her cat, which we don’t know if he actually talks, but he, he, uh, he certainly seems to make himself able to communicate with people who he chooses to communicate with.
Michael Craft: (15:08)
And, uh, I, I sort of dovetail this into the concept of using a character I had developed in an earlier collection of short stories. Brody Norris, he’s a gay architect and he becomes sort of, uh, a sidekick to the local sheriff, uh, helping him, you know, solve mysterious deaths there on the idyllic little town of Dumont, which I had written a lot about before.
Brad Shreve: (15:37)
I was gonna ask you about Dumont because it’s the same setting as your Mark. Manning series correct.
Michael Craft: (15:43)
Uh, right. Uh, Dumont appears in the third Mark Manning book Body Language. There are seven all together and the first two were set in Chicago where Mark Manning was a highly regarded reporter for the Chicago journal. It took me so long to get that first book published. By the time the first book was in print, I had long left Chicago and had moved to Wisconsin, Kenosha, Wisconsin, to be exact.
Michael Craft: (16:14)
And I really didn’t have, um, the same day to day contact with the city or with the, the big city newsroom, uh, that I had known before because I had spent 10 years working at the Chicago Tribune, uh, not as a writer, but as a graphic designer. But I, I had, uh, a very good sense of that. By the time I had finished drafting the second Mark Manning novel, I thought, I, I really can’t continue this. I need to, you know, I, I need to come up with a setting that I can write more authoritatively about. Because the whole day to day Chicago thing was gone. It just, it wasn’t there anymore. Also, journalism was changing fast and I couldn’t really set it in the newsroom of a big city newspaper because, you know, the, the digital tide had already, you know, began to wash ashore and things were changing.
Michael Craft: (17:08)
So, uh, I decided that I would come up with a fictitious setting and, uh, you know, just after tussling around with names and locations and so on, I decided it would be a small town located in central Wisconsin. I named it Dumont. And because I was inventing it out of whole cloth, I, I could of course, uh, you know, structure the town, but the mental map of the town that, that only, I, that only I know, but I could structure it in such a way, uh, to, to meet the evolving needs of the plots that were, were to follow. Whereas if I kept it in Chicago, I really couldn’t invent too much because it’s a real city and people know it well. So that’s how Dumont came about
Brad Shreve: (17:52)
Dumont is smaller than Kenosha as well, correct?
Michael Craft: (17:54)
Yes. Yeah. Kenosha is sort of a sort of a small city of about 100,000. But, um, I think of Dumont as being, well, much smaller than that, you know, 20, 30,000, something like that. I bet it’s kind of inspired by Appleton is, as I remember it. I’ve only been there once or twice, and I’m sure it’s bigger than 20 or 30,000, but I mean that, that’s, that’s roughly the part of the state, um, with Green Bay not too far away, that being the biggest city in the area. Um, so I, I could, I could point to Dumont on a map, but only I could see it.
Brad Shreve: (18:34)
Let’s talk about some of your characters. A mr puss. I don’t like saying that the person who is an owner of an animal, but let’s say his caretaker, , Mary, tell me about her.
Mary Questman. I invented Mary. Uh, when I, when I wrote the original Mr Puss short story. I mean it, I, you know, I kind of invented her to meet the need, the needs of the plot. Um, I knew about Mr Puss already and I, you know, and I just thought, you know, there’s going to be a kindly old lady. Um, I’ve sort of saw her as the, you know, the, the kindly old lady and the Tweedy pie cartoons, if you remember those, you know?
Brad Shreve: (19:20)
Yeah. Granny it was.
Michael Craft: (19:21)
Was that her name?
Brad Shreve: (19:22)
Yes. I don’t think she’s anything other than granny.
Michael Craft: (19:26)
And, uh, and then, you know, once I, once I had a, you know, a visual image of her, she needed a name and she needed circumstances and I don’t recall the exact chain of events that made her a wealthy widow. But that’s, that’s who she became.
Brad Shreve: (19:43)
And then we have Brody who you talked about helping the local sheriff. He has the husband Marson.
Michael Craft: (19:49)
Yes. Actually, uh, Brody and Marson were the principal characters in a collection of linked short stories that I wrote several years ago called inside Dumont. I ended up with this collection of, of a dozen stories that introduced a lot of characters in, in a, in a sense, each of the stories sort of acted as elaborate character sketches for me and then you know, later on I realized, wow, there’s a lot of fertile material there and you know, I can pick and choose from this freely now in terms of whatever the next book is going to be. And that was at the same time Mr Puss was happening in my head.
Michael Craft: (21:47)
Mr Puss does not, does not appear in the collection of short stories, but Brody Norris does, and his husband, the architect, Marson Miles, he’s actually the linking character in all of the stories and inside Dumont. Uh, and in some of those stories, he is front and center and you’re in his head. Uh, and, and other stories he’s just passing through, but he’s always there.
Brad Shreve: (22:13)
Well, you were talking about overlapping stories. So that actually brings me to the next character reporter, Glee Savage.
Michael Craft: (22:21)
Oh, I love Gleave. Thank you for bringing her up. The first time we’ve seen Glee was in all of the Mark Manning mysteries once the series moved to Dumont. So she was in there. There, there are seven Mark Manning mysteries. So she, she played an important role in the last five. Uh, she served as a features editor of the local paper, the Dumont Daily Register.
Michael Craft: (22:48)
She worked for Mark Manning in the years when he ran that paper. And I had no doubt, you know, as I began to consider the possibilities for the Mr Puss series, I knew it would be in Dumont. I knew that Brody Norris was going to be the central character and of course the cat was going to be there. And there’s I was also certain that many, uh, previous readers would recognize Dumont as having already been established in the Mark Manning series. So I, you know, I wrestled with some questions that the outset is to, uh, how specific do I make the link of the new series to the old series and what I, you know, what I finally decided on was that Glee Savage would indeed appear, you know, prominently in the new series and she’s the only character from the old series, uh, who is in the Mr Puss series as you may have discovered in reading, uh, the second installment of Mr Puss, titled ChoirMaster out today. There are finally some references, specific references to Mark Manning. It’s left as an open question as to what became of him. Many readers have been asking me about that. And then at the very end of this book, choir master, in fact, on the last page, uh, there is an important clue regarding what the next novel in the series is going to be about.
Brad Shreve: (24:16)
Go any further than that.
Michael Craft: (24:18)
We won’t go further than that, but people who want to know more, uh, you know, we’ll, you know, we’ll definitely find it in the third installment.
Brad Shreve: (24:26)
I think it’s great that you used her too to tie these together while still having separate stories,
Michael Craft: (24:33)
Right. And it gives, you know, it gives prior readers a sense of being anchored, uh, to, to the new series already. They know Glee and, and she’s, she’s such a memorable character. Um, you know, also I should mention that, you know, one of the reasons I decided to hold on to her and to hold onto this connection to the local paper, the Dumont daily register, is that I, I enjoy adding those epistolary elements to the novel where you’re reading clippings of news stories. I know this seems a little antiquated, almost quaint. Now. You know how many people actually read a physical newspaper but in Dumont, they still do. And I find that those news clippings are an excellent way and excellent, efficient way, um, to handle certain elements of exposition to a story. As you’re moving along. You know, you reach a point where you just want to get the facts down and it would look, it would be a terrible disservice to the reader to just, you know, do an exposition dump into the end of the real narrative of the book. But then when you say, you know, he picked up the paper and he read this story and it reads like a news story and it’s just the facts. It’s really, I found a great way to impart information in a believable way
Brad Shreve: (25:49)
How is this different than the Mark Manning series?
Michael Craft: (26:03)
Obviously it’s, it’s a whole different set of characters except for Glee. Uh, and while, uh, while the main character is a gay man, uh, who is involved in a relationship with another gay man, in fact, they’re married, uh, that’s not a central focus of these stories the way it was in the Mark Manning stories. Uh, you know, the, the first Mark Manning novel was sort of his coming out story and then he committed to his lover and then they sort of adopted a foster son and you know, and the aspects of their gay life were very, very central. The whole telling of those books, uh, in the current series. Uh, Mr Puss that’s all there, but it’s treated much more matter of factly. And I think in a sense, uh, that that’s a reflection of the times. I think society as a whole and literary tastes more specifically have become, uh, not only accepting of gay characters and gay main characters in books, but there’s, there’s almost an expectation that this will be treated more matter of factly than it once had to be.
Brad Shreve: (27:20)
It’s refreshing. It used to be every story seemed like it was a coming out story. And the fact that you have a married couple that just happened to be two gay men that are married is very refreshing to me and I, I appreciate that. Ace reporter Glee Savage. What would she tell me about Michael Craft?
Michael Craft: (27:41)
Ooh, she would tell me. She would tell you that I remind her somewhat of Mark Manning and I remind her somewhat of Brody Norris, both of whom she has been very close to is the author in question. Uh, I can tell you that there’s a little bit of me in every character I write, but no one character is me.
Brad Shreve: (28:08)
I would say that’s probably pretty common with most writers. There’s always a little piece of us in every character. Sometimes we don’t like to admit that depending on the character. You have a diverse background. You’ve, written 16 novels, three of which, as I said, were finalists in the Lambda Literary awards. Uh, you’re a playwright, a screenwriter. You’ve written some short stories. In what way has this diversity helped you in your writing?
Michael Craft: (28:35)
I’ve, I’ve found later life to be, uh, such a, such a fertile time for allowing yourself to, allowing myself to explore all of these aspects of, of creating and writing as I was coming of age and say turning 30, that when I, you know, that’s when I made up my mind that I really wanted to take seriously this dream I had held for a long time to write a novel, not only write a novel, but, but have it published. Um, that became sort of an obsessive thing for me. It took 12 years to get the first novel published. So it was, it was published when I was 42 then I was kind of on a roll. I had, I was under contract for a number of years to produce murder mysteries on a yearly basis. And I did, and I enjoyed it. But both of those, uh, mystery series began to get stale.
Michael Craft: (29:34)
Both of those mystery series, I felt had reached their logical conclusion. Um, and I wanted, you know, I wanted to put a period on them, which I did, which left me some time to rethink. And that was about the time that I was thinking of moving to California, thinking of going back to school, finishing an MFA, because I, you know, I did not yet have a master’s degree and very much wanted on it to do that. I’d always been into theater. That’s reflected in a lot of the novels. And uh, so I was trying my hand at playwriting. I was trying my hand at short stories. I was searching for what it was that I really wanted to do with the rest of my life, especially now that now that we’re getting older, and lo and behold, I came back to that original calling, which is long form fiction.
Michael Craft: (30:26)
It doesn’t always have to be a murder mystery. It doesn’t always have to be a gay murder mystery. But I really do find that my first love is in long form fiction. It’s a wonderful kind of project to, to wed for a while. You can’t knock out a novel, or at least you shouldn’t. It takes me, I don’t know, a year, a year to produce a novel and it’s a very obsessive sort of procedure and a very obsessive period, especially the drafting period after, you know, after it’s outlined and researched and ready to go, and it’s time to put 100,000 words on paper or 70,000 words or whatever it’s going to be. Um, that is, that is one of the most intensive kind of activities that I think anyone can, can it engage in. And for me, once I’m, you know, once I’m into a draft, it is seven days a week.
Michael Craft: (31:21)
Um, it’s not eight hours a day. I don’t know about you Brad, but I, I find that drafting, which is what most people think of as writing, you know, and they think of an author at the keyboard, you know, to me that’s drafting. Um, I find that to be emotionally and physically exhausting. I mean, if I put in a good three hours for it, the max, you know, I am, I’m ready to quit and I won’t force myself to work longer than that each day. Uh, you know, just because I, I don’t think I can do my best work when I’m tired.
Brad Shreve: (31:58)
And that’s actually one of the interesting things about being a writer. We, we have a love for writing. It’s actually a passion, but it is exhausting and a lot of work and you really, you really have to love it to do it.
Michael Craft: (32:10)
People who have not done it, who have not tussled with a difficult sentence or a seemingly impossible transition, you know, to get you from point A to point B in the, in the narrative you’re trying to construct. I mean, really, unless you’ve done it, you can’t appreciate how difficult that is and what an exhausting mental process it is to make it work. And then of course there’s revision. You know, it’s funny. And when I, when I wrote my first novel that was before personal computers, and in fact it was while I was in, uh, I was still working at the Chicago Tribune, but I was living in Kenosha. So I was riding a train every day commuting. And that added about four hours a day, uh, to my, you know, Workday when I just was sitting there on a train with a briefcase in my lap. And I thought this would be a good time and a good, you know, in a good way to put that time to use would be to finally write, literally handwrite, uh, that first novel that I wanted to tell.
Michael Craft: (33:17)
So it was a matter of of drafting on the train every day in long hand, getting home at night, uh, transcribing what I had written that day by typewriter and watching the pages pile up. And then, you know, after finally once there was a first draft, you know, a second draft meant retyping the whole novel. I mean, there was, you know, there was no word processing. Um, so, you know, revision was an ominous and scary process at the time because, you know, you know, you could do it once, you could do it twice, but you didn’t really want to get into it much beyond that because that meant retyping the novel each time. Well, of course, now with word processing everywhere, I mean that that changes everything. It is amazing how that has removed the barrier to revision. So the point that I’m getting at in a very circular way is that now even drafting contains a lot of revision as you go.
Michael Craft: (34:12)
If you don’t like it, you type the sentence over and you know, and, and you can, you continually revise. But my, uh, as you, right as you draft, but my routine is I will start today, start the, the writing day by doing a very close, tight edit of whatever I wrote the previous day. And that kind of gets me back into the story and gets my fingers moving on the keyboard. Um, and then I will do my quota. I hate, hate to use that term, but you know, the, I will reach the goal that I’ve set for myself for the next days drafting. Um, and of course I’m revising it as I go along and then the next day it starts over. You know, I, I just back it up a little, try to look at it with fresh eyes, fresh eyes after a night’s sleep and then move on to the, you know, move on to the next day’s production.
Brad Shreve: (35:02)
The mechanics certainly has changed of how we write from typewriters to word processors. Now that you brought up earlier, you started your first draft in 1980 and it did take you 12 years, which is not uncommon for a first novel. Emotionally, how was that period for you?
It was very difficult. Um, it not only did it take 12 years to get a first novel published, but along the way, there were 27 rejections. I kept them, I counted them and I, you know, I took heart in that, you know, not all of those rejections were just form letters or form postcards in some cases, but there were enough instances when an editor would take the time to write a short letter and say, you know, this is, there’s a lot of good things happening here, but you might consider this or that. And, uh, I took advice like that to be gold and, uh, I just kept revising. And so I think the, uh, you know, the old Maxim that persistence pays, you know, really does have a certain kernel of truth to it that said, persistence doesn’t always pay, you know, but, uh, you know, if, if you give up, you know that you’d failed. Um, and it, it, but on the other hand, if you keep on trying, uh, there, there is always that, uh, that chance that you’re gonna make it. And I think I had a happy ending or a happy beginning.
Brad Shreve: (36:36)
It sounds like you had both. And you know, I think for a new writer it’s important for them to know, you get 27 rejection letters and part of it may mean that you have to grow as a writer, but sometimes it’s just a matter of timing. It just isn’t the right book for that particular publisher at that.
Michael Craft: (36:51)
Right. That’s absolutely right.
Brad Shreve: (36:54)
So not every rejection letters is a rejection against you. If you take it personally, you’re going to have a really tough time. Even though it’s really hard not to take it personally.
Michael Craft: (37:03)
Right. And I mean, I actually, when the first Mark Manning book sold, that was a matter of being in the right place at the right time with a new agent who was, you know, had inner connections in that genre. And, you know, it was like, we’re ready to go. And, and when I first connected with him, um, he said, do you think you could maybe workup very rough, uh, like pitches for subsequent titles and we could make this a series and I think we can go out and get a three book deal. And I thought he’s crazy. You know, I’ve been struggling for years to get anyone just to look at, you know, at what I’ve been writing. And he thinks he’s going to go out and sell three at once. And by golly, it took him 10 days to do it. And I was off and running with the first three Mark Manning books with Kensington books. Um, flight dreams was the first Mark. Manning and Flight Dreams was the first gay novel published by Kensington because they wanted onto that bandwagon, which was, you know, which was pretty hot in the late eighties.
Brad Shreve: (38:09)
How have you grown as a writer since back then?
Michael Craft: (38:17)
Over the years I feel I’ve grown as a writer in the same sense that I’ve grown as a person. For instance, when I began the Mark Manning series, he was not a particularly likable character. He was rather arrogant. He was rather self-assured. Uh, at the time I thought that made him heroic and I don’t anymore. So you know, the characters I write have changed significantly in that time because my own thinking has changed in so many ways. That’s all you’re going to get on that one.
Brad Shreve: (38:53)
That’s fine. It’s a perfectly good answer.
Brad Shreve: (38:57)
You, you kinda talked about the, the first draft and that being so tough. What do you find is the hardest thing about writing?
Michael Craft: (39:04)
Hands down, what I find the toughest thing about writing a book is getting the idea for it in the first place. That element of inspiration, that’s a commodity that you can’t plan on. Um, it’s, it’s not like doing research. It’s not like doing outlining. It’s not like committing to sitting at the word processor for hours a day. You’ve got to have the idea, something that inspires you to, uh, to, to take that idea and spin it into a story that’s gonna, you know, captivate or reader for 80 or a hundred thousand words. They are far and few between. And I know that when I’m between projects, that is the source of most of my angst. What is the next one? Where’s that going to come from? And all I can do at a time like that is, you know, I like to talk about raising my creative antenna and you know, just, just being ready to snag any idea that comes along. It may be snippet of something I read or hear or it may just appear out of nowhere, but when it comes, I know. And uh, and that’s when, uh, sort of obsessive note-taking begins. I do go through a phase at the start of each book where I’m just taking random notes. I’m not trying to structure a plot. Um, I’m just trying to, to expand on the germ of an idea. And that is the hardest part because it’s so uncertain and unpredictable and you can’t just flip a switch and make it happen.
Brad Shreve: (40:47)
Yeah. You can just sit down at the keyboard and say, I am creative right now and I’m beginning my day. It wish it was that easy. You know, I write, I find if you’re like me sometimes coming up with a new idea, I’m just staring at the wall. And then other times I’m walking down the street and it hits me like a brick in the side of the head just to just say, okay, here’s my idea. Out of nowhere, it’s very difficult.
Michael Craft: (41:15)
And plus the fact you’re, you’re, you’re sort of, you know, it’s, it’s not just, you know, what jazzes me, but it’s, you know, what would jazz a reader. And so, I mean, I have to be, I have to think that, you know, readers are going to find this as exciting as I do. And conversely, you know, I won’t just write what I think readers are going to like. I have to be really enthralled with it.
Brad Shreve: (41:39)
Now you had hinted earlier that about this not being the end of Mr Puss, so it sounds like that we can expect more of Mr Puss in the future.
Michael Craft: (41:51)
Oh yes. What does the future hold for him that you will, well, I know there’s going to be a third installment because I’ve begun drafting it. It’s outlined, it’s ready to go. Um, and then beyond that, uh, I’m not sure.
Michael Craft: (42:10)
One thing that I am sure of, and this has me rather excited. Some months ago I got an email out of the blue from an editor who was putting, uh, putting together a new anthology that will be titled Palm Springs Noir. Um, and one of the things they’re known for, one of their specialties is this series that’s city Noir books, anthologies. And uh, it started I think with Brooklyn war and there is Chicago and Los Angeles and Las Vegas for they have a very broad readership and uh, it, it’s, it’s a great concept. Uh, they will settle on a city or an area and recruit, um, a group of writers, usually 14, and each writer contributes noir short stories set in a different, uh, location in that city or area.
Michael Craft: (43:18)
Noir is not my style. I mean not my style in terms of what I have done in the past. And I think for that reason I just jumped at the chance. I thought this, this will be an exciting, you know, an exciting opportunity to try out something new. And I had an absolute ball with it.
Brad Shreve: (43:36)
The book can be exciting to me being, being in Los Angeles and having spent a little time in Palm Springs.
Michael Craft: (43:44)
But you know, I also love the irony of, you know, doing noir in Palm Springs, which is 350 days of sunshine a year. And the whole whole concept of, of finding its darker seedier side, you know, just has a really wonderful ironic twist built into it that it does, that’s part of what’s going to make it so interesting. Yeah, no. Oh and also, I mean it’s not, it’s not a a gay anthology, but you know, if we’re talking Palm Springs, you know, how, how can you avoid that? Why would you avoid it? Anyway, my story for instance is, you know, my regular gay readership will not be disappointed in this one, but the, the entire anthology will not consist of gays, I know of at least a couple other authors who are contributing to it.
Brad Shreve: (44:33)
Yeah. And for those that aren’t familiar with, with Palm Springs today, it has grown into a very large gay community. Part of the reason is because San Francisco is just gotten outrageously expensive and Palm Springs is dramatically cheaper and it’s just a beautiful place to retire to or move to.
Michael Craft: (44:55)
And also it’s such a unique setting. Uh, you know, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s this paradise built in an Oasis. Uh, you know, it, it is, it is a desert. It’s surrounded by mountains. I mean it just, you know, totally beautiful landscape that lends itself to, you know, lush description and, uh, and I don’t hesitate to go that route.
Brad Shreve: (45:20)
Yeah. Well I’m a big fan of mid century modern furniture and homes, so I’m, I’m in heaven. I’m in heaven when I’m in Palm Springs. So I have a question that I have that I will ask questions that writers hate. So give me a second here and we’ll spin the wheel.
Sound Effect: (45:38)
Okay. Here’s the question I have for you. I hear there’s big money in erotica. Why don’t you write that?
Michael Craft: (45:54)
Actually the first series, the Mark Manning’s series has a lot of erotic material to it. Um, I sort of facetiously named my sub genre as being the, uh, the erotic, cozy, you know, I mean, it was just, you know, but, but I mean, I, I really have a lot of explicit erotic material throughout the Mark Manning series. Um, it was, it sold well I think, but I hope not solely because of that. Um, I don’t think so. So the short answer is there really isn’t big money in erotica, at least not for most of us because, but, uh, but on the other hand, I have written it, but I’m not doing it now.
Brad Shreve: (46:43)
Well, there’s, I think there’s a big difference between having erotic scenes or erotica within a novel and having a novel that is designated as an erotic novel. There’s a very big difference, uh, in my opinion. Uh, so if for our listeners, if they want to reach you or purchase your books, what is the best way for them to do that?
Michael Craft: (47:05)
The best way to do that is to go to my website. It’s very easy to find. It’s michaelcraft.com. Craft with a C michaelcraft.com. Uh, right on the homepage, you’ll find everything you need to know about the new book, how to order it. It’s, it’s available now in hardcover paperback and ebook. So you know, whatever you’re, whatever your reading preferences there, there is an addition to suit your needs. Um, also from the, uh, from my website, you can email me if anyone would like to, you know, like to discuss any of this further or anyone who wants to connect with me on Facebook can find me there.
Brad Shreve: (47:50)
So it’s actually one easy place to find you in your books, michaelcraft.com that makes it, that makes it nice and convenient. I do want to thank you for your time. I’m very excited that you were the person that was here for my premiere episode.
Michael Craft: (48:01)
Oh, and I’m just delighted and honored Brad to do this with you. I think it, it bodes well for both of us. We both have excellent taste.
Brad Shreve: (48:15)
I will agree with you. So thank you very much for your time, Michael.
Michael Craft: (48:21)
Brad Shreve: (48:28)
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